3. The Seductiveness of Stuff

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I define organizing as arranging your possessions to support what’s important in your life. Once you have a clear vision of that, it’s time to arrange your belongings to support that vision. But when you start looking at individual objects, you face a danger which I call “the seductiveness of stuff.”

It’s easy to overcome this danger. I want to let you know about it so that you’re not surprised, and because awareness of it makes it easier to overcome.

At the start of an organizing session, I always sit down with my client somewhere away from the area to be organized. I look them in the eye and ask them the same questions I asked you in the last podcast.
• What things are important to you right now in your life?
• What would you like to accomplish?
• What makes you happy?
• What gives your life meaning?
At this point, the client is designing their life! They’re going through a creative process. If they could have their life any way they wanted, what would it be like? In this brainstorming and creative process, the client is in charge, they are evaluating alternatives, making decisions, and creating their life based on what is important to them.

What I have found, however, is that when we enter into the area to be organized in order to implement the plan, there is sometimes a subtle shift that takes place. The client looks around the room, sees all the stuff around them, and starts responding to whatever their eye happens to fall upon. They start responding to the stuff, instead of compelling the stuff to respond to them. The individual items begin to exert some influence, and sometimes the vision gets lost in that collection of objects, like not being able to see the forest for the trees. Instead of moving toward their vision of how it could be, they’re responding to what’s already there. It’s almost as if the stuff is in charge.

Of course it may happen that when you look through the stuff, you will be reminded of something that genuinely is important. In that case, it’s a simple matter to go back and add it to the list. What generally happens, however, is that the item, although an interesting detail, really isn’t important in terms of the big picture. It’s important to maintain the big picture perspective in the midst of all the details. If the details crowd out the big picture, it’s easy to lose direction.

Let’s look at an example. Sherry had a huge collection of cassette tapes. Before we started organizing, she made the following four statements:

1. First, the boxes of tapes took up a lot of space and she wanted that space to set up an easel to pursue a new hobby. She was very passionate about painting and having this extra space for her studio was her main reason for organizing.
2. Second, she had listened to all these tapes in the past and had no intention of ever listening to them again.
3. Third, at this point she didn’t even own a cassette player and wasn’t willing to buy one in order to be able to play them.
4. And therefore, fourth, she wanted to get rid of most of the cassette tapes and keep less than 10% of them.

But when we started to look through the boxes to choose that 10%, Sherry at first wanted to keep almost all of them. She would say, “Oh, I listened to this with my first boyfriend.” “This was interesting.” “And this is by my favorite author.” “Maybe I’ll listen to this again some day.”

Do you see what happened? Some aspect of each individual object appealed to her in such a way that it diverted her from the path she wanted to be on. These possessions somehow had her doing the exact opposite of what she had intended to do. You can call this influence whatever you want, but I call it “the seductiveness of stuff.” In any case, it was clear that if she continued in this way, she would not reach her goals.

I have found that we are more vulnerable to “the seductiveness of stuff” when we become predominately outward-focused. Let me explain. In the last podcast, you looked at what is important in your life. This is essentially an inward process. It helps to be introspective and reflect so these priorities come from the deepest part of yourself, from your heart. When you look at an object, the danger is that you put so much attention on the object itself that you lose touch with yourself in the process. This is what I call outward-focused. When you are outward-focused, you may make decisions based on what’s in front of you, even though those decisions are not congruent with who you are and what you want. If you forget what’s truly important to you, then everything looks important.

On the other hand, if you view the object from the perspective of who you are and what’s important to you, you are more likely to be able to succeed in reaching your objectives. This was the case with Sherry. With the techniques I describe in these podcasts, I was able to support her in making decisions that led to her reaching her goals.

Based on my nine years of experience as a professional organizer, I make the following three recommendations to help keep you from being seduced by your stuff:

• First, always remember your objectives when making decisions about your stuff. View your stuff from the perspective of who you are and what you want to achieve.
• Second, remember that there is no value in life except what you choose to place upon it. You have the power at every moment to assign value to an object and evaluate how it supports what’s important in your life.
• Third, keep with you, ideally in your pocket, the list of life priorities you created in the last podcast. If you start to become too outward-focused, take it out and look at it. It will remind you of your big picture objectives.

How can stuff be so seductive? I believe it’s not the stuff itself, but what the stuff represents, and I’ll discuss this more in the future. Until then, may you continue living a life of meaning and value.

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